Funny how hard it can be to make a decision.

Those of you reading this who are familiar with the concept of the hierarchy of values will know that of the principles we hold dear, those we consider more important than the others help us to decide what to do when we are faced with conflicting choices. The most often used example being when we have a choice between jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft with a parachute and going on a boat trip. If we value adventure above security, we fly, if we value security over adventure, we sail.

Similar logic applies when we have to choose between attending a family dinner and having to work to get that project done. If we hate our extended family we go to work. If we love our family we negotiate an earlier start the day after, to make up time then.

Simple – your prioritised values dictate your choice.

But what to do when the same value applies to all available options?

I had such a situation the other day.

At 5.30am on Sunday last, I got the call from my wife. My daughter was about to give birth to my second grandchild/first grandson. (All doing fine, by the way ) That morning, I was also due to attend a District Meeting of an organisation where I hold office as a local President.

Now, as far as the birth was concerned it was over by the time I’d have risen for the meeting, so timing wasn’t the issue. The actual issue was threefold.

  1. Although the family support systems for the new baby were ample, I felt as thought I had a duty to be present for developments.
  2. I also had a duty to the club to support members in the meeting competitions and to simply represent the club.
  3. I have a dog that wasn’t going to be exercised while the rest of the family was focused on the baby.

For many the choice may be clear, but that’s how values work – your values won’t match mine and you may scoff at my trilemma. But as one of my higher values is duty and all three represented a duty, I found myself anguishing over whether or not to go to the meeting.

In the event, I stayed home, walked the dog, ferried great-Grandma to and from the hospital (and watched the Australian GP in the gap….), but it had been a hard choice.

Which made me think – how to get around such a challenge to one’s conscience. In the end, it could be argued that the answer was obvious, but then some answers are. But when it comes to values, you occasionally find yourself blinded by the obvious.

The answer, I feel, is this.

When faced with a decision between options that appear to match the same values, as I was, look for another value for each option and see where that lies on your hierarchy.

In my example, instead of ‘duty’ being the value attached to each option, I could have simply put ‘family’ against the appropriate option – and then my prioritisation of family over duty would have made the decision easier. Or, if opting for that value did not ease the decision itself, the post-decision emotion would be ‘I have done the right thing’ and not ‘did I do the right thing?’

Which is a whole lot less debilitating.

Next time you find yourself in a dilemma, trilemma or any other kind of emma because all of them match a particular personal value, instead of sweating over the whole shebang, look for the higher value that you can associate with one of the options, and choose that.

Argue the toss later. Although you probably won’t need to.

Now, where’s that lead? Walkies!